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proto essay on defense against strong frames and false n-chotomies


I claim that most (all?) concepts are imperfect, by the nature of conceptualization.

I expect we should be especially wary of concepts that lead us to break what were once a myriad of largely undifferentiated perceptions into exactly two categories—especially when we did not ourselves come up with those categories while trying to make sense of our own observations, especially when we did not previously make any effort to make sense of our own observations, and especially especially when we notice ourselves employing the dichotomy all over the place immediately after gaining the concept.

This happened to me today, so i've been thinking about how to respond.

What is it to "be wary" in the relevant sense? What should a person do, when they notice that this has happened to them? When they notice that someone has just handed them a strong frame and now they're thinking in terms of that frame when they've never even attempted to deliberately observe the bit of territory that the frame supports, and have never tried to make sense of those observations themselves?

I think this kind of situation calls for cognitive first aid. There's a crucial moment in which you can either lock in your new unexamined and highly compressed way of perceiving the world, or you can become grounded in your own competence as an observer and thinker, thereby gaining the space needed to examine the new frame from the outside.

(Here's some space where you can pause to think of at least one way you might establish grounding in your own competence as an observer and thinker, before I tell you about my own way.)

I think a good thing to do is to leave the room (or close the book, or the tab, or the video, whatever) and spend at least five minutes attempting to get in direct contact with something.  ANYTHING. It does not have to be relevant to the domain of the concept. Best of it's not. Get out a pencil and sketch the tissue box in front of you. Find something growing in a crack in the sidewalk outside. Derive de morgan's law using a minimalistic set of derivation rules (like, just assumption plus operator introduction and elimination).

Then, once you're definitely in direct contact with a real thing that is not whatever concept has just been thrust upon you, spend at least five minutes working toward your own completely original taxonomy.


Start instead with some reference experiences: search your memory for specific things that actually happened to you, or that you heard about once, that seem like they might be sort of relevant. Better yet, make some brand new observations, if possible. Then try to build your own taxonomy of those experiences.

In my case today, this would be a taxonomy of social utterances. I've just produced a whole bunch of them myself, so these sentences are a fine place to start. I also remember my dad saying, "I'm your father, not your friend." I remember my neighbor telling me it's fine to leave the pothole filling party any time and that he's grateful for any amount of time I can contribute. Facebook, Wikipedia, Reddit, and every book I own are made almost entirely of social utterances. If I go downstairs to say "hello" to my fiance, social utterances will almost certainly pour out of both of us. I can use any of these sources to sketch taxonomies.

Here is a brainstorm of things that might belong in a taxonomy of social utterances, which I've not yet begun to organize into a rough hierarchy:

  • stuff people say because they want you to feel something
  • stuff people say because they want you to know something
  • stuff people say because they want you to believe something
  • stuff people say because they want you to be aware of some things
  • stuff people say because they want you to __not__ be aware of some things
  • stuff people say because they want you to conceive of your relationship to them in a certain way
  • stuff people say that has nothing to do with you
  • stuff people say because they want you to say something to them
  • stuff people say to change your expectations about what they will do
  • stuff people say when they want everyone in earshot to know that everyone in earshot has heard what they have said

I cannot make a list like this without at least beginning to accumulate questions. That's part of Thinking, for me. Here are some accumulated questions.

  • what is shitposting?
  • how are Facebook utterances different from Wikipedia utterances?
  • when am I most often confused about why a person is saying a thing?
  • why do almost all of my categories include "because" and "want"? what if I made a taxonomy of social utterances that does not involve whatever's behind "because", or whatever's behind "want"?
  • why do I dislike certain kinds of social utterances?
  • what are non-social utterances?
  • why do people say things to make other people feel certain ways? (eg humor to make people feel amusement)
  • why would someone want everyone in earshot to know that everyone in earshot has heard the thing?
  • why do we talk?
  • what can talking do that slapping cannot?
  • what is fiction?
  • what is playing pretend?
  • how does sarcasm work? when does it not work? what is it good for?
  • when is gossip useful? when is it harmful? why do the first things I think about gossip involve valuations?

The point of this exercise I've just done is not that I may come up with a better conceptualization than the one that lead me to seek cognitive first aid to stay cognitively healthy and strong (though that certainly happens now and then).

The point is that I've reminded myself that the world is complicated, that any given conceptualization of it attempts to compress an enormous amount of information, and that I am capable of finding my own ways to think about the world. I am now grounded in my own abilities as an observer and thinker, and I remember what it feels like to do something besides capitulate to some big concept I was just handed.


This proto-post has been brought to you by Anna's essay on Narrative Synching, which I found something-like disturbingly compelling.

To be clear, I'm not claiming Narrative Synching is wrong or a bad essay. I just sort of, found myself feeling constrained/compelled/hypnotized/something after reading it, and then I wished that the five nonexistent paragraphs preceding the body of the essay had gone slower, giving me time to look at the world for myself before shoving a particular color of glasses in front of my face and then pointing at where I should look. I've felt the same thing a lot of times, so I thought I'd try writing something about it.

Additional verbal upvote because strong upvote not enough.

Suppose you wanted to improve your social relationships on the community level. (I think of this as “my ability to take refuge in the sangha”.) What questions might you answer now, and then again in one year, to track your progress?

Here’s what’s come to mind for me so far. I’m probably missing a lot and would really like your help mapping things out. I think it’s a part of the territory I can only just barely perceive at my current level of development.

  • If something tragic happened to you, such as a car crash that partially paralyzed you or the death of a loved one, how many people can you name whom you'd find it easy and natural to ask for help with figuring out your life afterward?
  • For how many people is it the case that if they were hospitalized for at least a week you would visit them in the hospital?
  • Over the past month, how lonely have you felt?
  • In the past two weeks, how often have you collaborated with someone outside of work?
  • To what degree do you feel like your friends have your back?
  • Describe the roll of community in your life.
  • How do you feel as you try to describe the roll of community in your life?
  • When's the last time you got angry with someone and confronted them one on one as a result?
  • When's the last time you apologized to someone?
  • How strong is your sense that you're building something of personal value with the people around you?
  • When's the last time you spent more than ten minutes on something that felt motivated by gratitude?
  • When a big change happens in your life, such as loosing your job or having a baby, how motivated do you feel to share the experience with others?
  • When you feel motivated to share an experience with others, how satisfied do you tend to be with your attempts to do that?
  • Do you know the love languages of your five closest friends? To what extent does that influence how you behave toward them?
  • Does it seem to you that your friends know your love language?
  • To what extent do you “know how to have friends”?
  • Describe your relationship with your boss.
  • Describe your relationships with your co-workers.
  • When you think about being part of a church, how much longing do you feel?
  • When you notice that you feel lonely or isolated, how do you tend to respond?
  • How satisfied do you tend to be with your response to feelings of loneliness or isolation?
  • Imagine that you suddenly had to move to another city where nobody knew you and there were no rationalists or EAs. How surprised would you be to hear that within two years, you’d feel well supported by a warm and friendly network of local social connections?
  • Excluding people who live in your house, how many faces can you picture of the people who live on your street? How many of them could you greet by name? How many of them have you spoken to in the past month? How many of them have you helped with something? How many of them have helped you with something?
  • When you think about your participation in your community, what do you feel dissatisfaction or longing about?
  • If you suddenly moved to another city, how big is the hole you would leave in your community? What would be its shape? In what ways and to what extent have the people around you come to depend on you?
  • How much stronger are you with your community than without it? In what ways, specifically, have you allowed it to support you over the past year, and how much benefit did you gain from that?

I find this list really helpful. In general, I've found this framework of breaking down fuzzy questions about social skills like this pretty helpful for seeing progress.

Thanks for making it!

Some of these reminded me of when Weft asked a few slightly related qustions previously.

Some advice to my past self about autism:

Learn about what life is like for people with a level 2 or 3 autism diagnosis. Use that reference class to predict the nature of your problems and the strategies that are likely to help. Only after making those predictions, adjust for your own capabilities and circumstances. Try this regardless of how you feel about calling yourself autistic or seeking a diagnosis. Just see what happens.

Many stereotypically autistic behaviors are less like symptoms of an illness, and more like excellent strategies for getting shit done and having a good life. It’s just hard to get them all working together. Try leaning into those behaviors and see what’s good about them. For example, you know how when you accidentally do something three times in a row, you then feel compelled to keep doing it the same way at the same time forever? Studying this phenomenon in yourself will lead you to build solid and carefully designed routines that allow you to be a lot more reliably vibrant.

You know how some autistic people have one-on-one aides, caretakers, and therapists who assist in their development and day-to-day wellbeing? Read a bit about what those aides do. You’ll notice right away that the state of the art in this area is crap, but try to imagine what professional autism aides might do if they really had things figured out and were spectacular at their jobs. Then devote as many resources as you can spare for a whole year to figuring out how to perform those services for yourself.

It seems to me that most of what’s written about autism by neurotypicals severely overemphasizes social stuff. You’ll find almost none of it compelling. Try to understand what’s really going on with autism, and your understanding will immediately start paying off in non-social quality of life improvements. Keep at it, and it’ll eventually start paying off in deep and practical social insights as well (which I know you don’t care about right now, but it’s true).

I know you want me to tell you what to read. You’re going to hate my answer. Basically everything related to autism that you pick up will be slightly helpful but woefully inadequate. Most things you find will seem deeply confused and infuriatingly bound up with identity politics. The most practical stuff will be written for parents with autistic children, and most of that will seem to be trying to comfort the parents by making their kids act less weird, never mind what the kids are experiencing or why. It’s really awful, I’m so sorry.

Go get on Google Scholar as you were obviously going to anyway, and you’ll find at least *some* juicy theoretical stuff. After that, your best resources will not be found under “autism”, but under “predictive processing” and “perceptual control theory”. Three notable semi-exceptions are *The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome* by Tony Atwood, *Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Understanding Life Experiences from Early Childhood to Old Age* by Sarah Hendrickx and Judith Gould, and *The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime* by Mark Haddon. (You’ll get farther with this if you first train the skill “getting the most out of books that you hate”.)

Everything published by the organization “Autism Speaks” is gonna piss you off to no purpose. Just skip it.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about monographs .

“A monograph is a specialist work of writing… or exhibition on a single subject or an aspect of a subject, often by a single author or artist, and usually on a scholarly subject… Unlike a textbook, which surveys the state of knowledge in a field, the main purpose of a monograph is to present primary research and original scholarship ascertaining reliable credibility to the required recipient. This research is presented at length, distinguishing a monograph from an article.”

I think it’s a bit of an antiquated term. Either that or it’s chiefly British, because as an American I’ve seldom encountered it.

I know the word because Sherlock Holmes is always writing monographs. In *A Study In Scarlet*, he says, “I gathered up some scattered ash from the floor. It was dark in colour and flakey—such an ash as is only made by a Trichinopoly. I have made a special study of cigar ashes—in fact, I have written a monograph upon the subject. I flatter myself that I can distinguish at a glance the ash of any known brand, either of cigar or of tobacco.” He also has a monograph on the use of disguise in crime detection, and another on the utilities of dogs in detective work.

When I tried thinking of myself as writing “monographs” on things, I broke though some sort of barrier. The things I wrote turned out less inhibited and more… me. I benefited from them myself more as well.

What I mean by “monograph” is probably a little different from what either Sherlock or academia means, but it’s in the same spirit. I think of it as a photo study or a character sketch, but in non-fiction writing form.

Here are my guidelines for writing a monograph.

1. Pick a topic you can personally investigate. It doesn’t matter whether it’s “scholarly”. It’s fine if other people have already written dozens of books on the subject, regardless of whether you’ve read them, just as long as you can stick your own nose in the actual subject matter as well. It would be hard for me to write a monograph on the cognitive effects of blood redistribution in high-G environments, because I don’t own a fighter jet. But I could absolutely write a monograph on the cognitive effects of blood redistribution during physical inversion, because I can do a handstand against the wall or hang upside down from a horizontal bar.

2. Write down dozens of questions about the topic. Yes, really, dozens. They don’t have to be good questions. Do this in brainstorming mode. Afterward, highlight the questions you feel particularly drawn to. Don’t leave out anything you feel a burning itch to know, even if it seems literally impossible to answer.

3. Pick one of your questions and start writing about it. As you write, do whatever investigations occur to you, and write about them. Favor methods that put you in more direct contact with the territory, even when you expect you could read about someone else’s investigations. Please do write later about somebody’s meta-analysis on whether things fall up, but go drop a bunch of pencils on your own first.

4. Do this with all of the questions on your list that call to you. When you’re done, you’ve written a monograph.

Now that you have some idea of what the heck I’m even doing, maybe I’ll feel more comfortable sharing my monographs here. My plan is to publish them little by little as I write, so other people can influence my investigations. You’ll get a series of “essays”, but they may be in a wide range of styles and formats from poetry to data sets to expository prose, the better to see the topic from many perspectives.

I really like this concept. It currently feels to me like a mixture between a fact post and an essay

From the fact-post post: 

You explicitly do not look for opinion, even expert opinion. You avoid news, and you're wary of think-tank white papers. You're looking for raw information. You are taking a sola scriptura approach, for better and for worse.

And then you start letting the data show you things. 

You see things that are surprising or odd, and you note that. 

You see facts that seem to be inconsistent with each other, and you look into the data sources and methodology until you clear up the mystery.

You orient towards the random, the unfamiliar, the things that are totally unfamiliar to your experience. One of the major exports of Germany is valves?  When was the last time I even thought about valves? Why valves, what do you use valves in?  OK, show me a list of all the different kinds of machine parts, by percent of total exports.  

From Paul Graham's essay post: 

Figure out what? You don't know yet. And so you can't begin with a thesis, because you don't have one, and may never have one. An essay doesn't begin with a statement, but with a question. In a real essay, you don't take a position and defend it. You notice a door that's ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what's inside.

If all you want to do is figure things out, why do you need to write anything, though? Why not just sit and think? Well, there precisely is Montaigne's great discovery. Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays I only thought of when I sat down to write them. That's why I write them.

I was honestly a bit surprised how well you managed to pull the exact moment from my childhood where I learned the word 'monograph'. I read every page of a beautiful red book that contained all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and I distinctly recall the line about having written a monograph on the subject of cigar ash, and being able to discern the different types.

Here's a thing I posted to Facebook four years ago:

In a thread about Jennifer Kahn's NYT article on CFAR, someone observed that there are an awful lot of articles that amount to "techie birdwatching", which are sort of like "check out what this crowd of weird people does, aren't they weird?" Nearly every article I've seen on rationalist-related organizations and events has been like that, and I've noticed it's upset some of my fellow birds. It's mean in real life to treat somebody like a circus freak, and that's how it can feel to be a secondary character in one of these stories.

I responded with (approximately) the following.

About the birdwatching: I think this comes straight from the story structure. (Application of Orson Scott Card's MICE model follows.) If you plan to use narrative structure to give your nonfiction article greater emotional impact, you've sort of got four basic options:

  1. You can start with a puzzle that you'll work with the reader to solve over the course of the story. This could have been "Trustworthy person X claims to have done impressive thing Y using CFAR techniques. How did that happen? I went to a CFAR workshop, and as you may have guessed from the clues I spent most of this article dropping, it turns out the solution to the puzzle is Y."

  2. You can follow a specific person, opening with a dilemma that threatens their self-narrative and role in their community, showing their struggle to re-define themselves, and closing with their adoption of a new self-narrative/role. This could have been, "Tod signed up for a CFAR workshop when he could no longer put up with [thing]. This story is about his struggle to learn and apply the techniques taught at the CFAR workshop he attended, and the person he became as a result."

  3. You can open with a dark force throwing the world into chaos, follow some people who struggle to re-establish order, and close when they've succeeded. This could have been, "Things were fine and dandy at the CFAR worshop until [disaster]. We used a bunch of rationality techniques (which they taught us over the course of the workshop) to deal with [disaster], and in the end things were good again and we had a big party."

  4. You can open with an outsider journeying to a strange new land, show them experiencing a bunch of new and interesting things, and close with them returning home a slightly different person than they were when they set out. This one looks like, "I heard about this interesting thing called CFAR, so I attended a workshop to find out what it was all about. While there, I experienced a bunch of things through the eyes of an outsider on an alien world. Then I went home, and found those experiences stayed with me in a narratively satisfying way."

With the possibilities laid out like that, I think it's pretty easy to see why most reporters are going to augment their straight-facts reporting with 4-type story structure. It's just way easier, unless they happen to be reporting on an organization where they're already an insider. So when a reporter uses 4-type story structure with a Bay Area thing as the setting, the weird and interesting things the main character sees through the eyes of an outsider will be the sort of geeky and bohemian people and behaviors that exist in the Bay. If they didn't approach it like that, then unless they used some other story structure, the narrative would lose almost all of its emotional resonance.

They're not necessarily depicting us as bizarre aliens because they find us incomprehensible and like to make fun of us, or anything like that. They're likely doing it because they know how to tell a good story.

So I think if you want coverage for CFAR (or another unusual organization) that doesn't focus on how it's full of weird geeks and cultish behaviors, I think you have to pitch a journalist a story idea from one of the other three categories of structure, and somehow make it easier and/or more compelling for them to stick to that structure instead of falling back on "I'm an outsider going to a new place to see strange things."

I wrote up my shame processing method. I think it comes from some combination of Max (inspired by NVC maybe?), Anna (mostly indirectly), and a lot of trial and error. I've been using it for a couple of years (in various forms), but I don't have much PCK on it yet. If you'd like to try it out, I'd love for you to report back on how it went! Please also ask me questions.

What's up with shame?

According to me, shame is for keeping your actions in line with what you care about. It happens when you feel motivated to do something that you believe might damage what is valuable (whether or not you actually do the thing).

Shame indicates a particular kind of internal conflict. There's something in favor of the motivation, and something else against it. Both parts are fighting for things that matter to you.

What is this shame processing method supposed to do?

This shame processing method is supposed to aid in the goal of shame itself: staying in contact with what you care about as you act. It's also supposed to develop a clearer awareness of what is at stake in the conflict so you can use your full intelligence to solve the problem.

What is the method?

The method is basically a series of statements with blanks to fill in. The statements guide you a little at a time toward a more direct way of seeing your conflict. Here's a template; it's meant to be filled out in order.

I notice that I feel ashamed. 
I think I first started feeling it while ___.
I care about ___(X). 
I'm not allowed to want ___ (Y). 
I worry that if I want Y, ___.
What's good about Y is ___(Z).
I care about Z, and I also care about X.

Example (a real one, from this morning):

I notice that I feel ashamed. I think I first started feeling it while reading the first paragraph of a Lesswrong post. I care about being creative. I'm not allowed to want to move at a comfortable pace. I worry that if I move at a comfortable pace, my thoughts will slow down more and more over time and I'll become a vegetable. What's good about moving at a comfortable pace is that there's no external pressure, so I get to think and act with more freedom. I care about freedom, and I also care about creativity.

On using the template:

The first statement, "I notice that I feel ashamed," should feel a lot like noticing confusion. To master this method, you'll need to study experiences of shame until you can reliably recognize them.

The second statement, "I think I first started feeling it while ___," should feel like giving a police report. You don't tell stories about what it all means, you just say what happened.

The rest should feel like Focusing. Wait for a felt shift before moving to the next statement.

This isn't directly responding to you, more like a cached thing-I-wanted-to-share-that-I-was-slightly-wary-of-sharing-as-a-top-level-post, but which feels relevant.

I notice a lot of people in my social circles having a pretty strong "shame is bad" orientation, which makes sense, because I think overuse and abuse of shame has deeply hurt a lot of people. I think there's an overall pendulum swing against it that makes sense as a knee jerk reaction.

The ideal, longterm steady state probably looks something like you're pointing at here (whether this particular method works, in general 'people should develop emotional processing skills', and a world where people learn that better seems like a world that overall makes much better use of the human emotional spectrum, including parts that people experience as negative-valence)


...even without sophisticated emotional processing, I've found myself swing my own personal pendulum back towards "actually shame is pretty fine and useful, and I should probably be employing it slightly more on the margin." It's a bit tricky because I think it depends at least somewhat on group norms.

The crystallizing moment for me was when I worked at Spotify, and there (used to be) an office norm where if you left your laptop open, in such a way that an employee could gain access to it, they would open your email client and send the office a message saying "coffee and donuts are on me!" and then you had to buy coffee/donuts for your team.  (the idea was the encourage people to treat security seriously)

My team leader mentioned this soon after I got hired, and I sort of nodded, but didn't really change my behavior munch.

Then, a couple weeks later, I did leave my laptop open. And someone sent an email from my account. And when I found out, I got a spike of shame...

...and I never did it again (at least while working at Spotify).

And that gave me a crisp sense of when shame was supposed to be for – implementing simple group norms.

I think the failure of shame in wider society has to do with a) some cultures/religions using shame as a weird weapon where they make basically anything fun or sexual shameful, in a way that is not actually healthy. b) in melting-pot civilizations, you don't even get the the thing where "there's a simple set of rules you can learn", instead there's a bunch of overlapping rules and you don't know what you're going to get socially punished for.

It's a potent tool, and that's what makes it dangerous and important to weird carefully, wisely, sparingly.

I think that most of what I've gotten out of the Sequences is actually this. The act of noticing. I think it not only applies to shame, but to many more related internal conflicts.

In my experience, it's surprising the amount which we can learn by applying procedures such as the method you outline. Hopefully we get to see more about this.

Sangha: Part 1

In years past, the word “community” conjured for me images of many people talking to each other, as at a party or a bake sale. When I thought of “finding community”, I thought of looking for a group of people that would frequently interact with each other and also me. It didn’t really sound appealing — lots of chaos, too many people talking at once, constant misunderstandings, and so forth. But I knew that I felt worse and worse over time if I never saw other people. So I entered a “community” of people with a shared interest, and therefore an excuse to spend time together, and I gradually tried to figure out how to make “community” a better experience. I failed at that, over and over, for years.

In 2019, I began to succeed. I know exactly why, but I feel a little embarrassed saying it, because it sounds so cheesy. I’ll say it anyway: I succeeded because I stopped looking for community outside of myself.

My new year’s resolution for this year was to “take refuge in the sangha”.

Literally, “sangha” is a group of monks and nuns living together at a monastery. When I spent a summer at a Zen temple, though, the abbess there used the term much more expansively. Sometimes she meant “everybody who comes to the temple”. Sometimes she meant “everyone who practices Buddhism”. Sometimes she meant “all sentient beings” (and she used “sentient” rather broadly as well, usually including all living things plus a variety of spirits). But whenever she said “sangha”, she always seemed to suggest something about her relationship to those beings, something with the flavor of monks and nuns practicing together day in and day out, washing floors together and meeting in the meditation hall well before the sun is up. In her view of the world, the grasshoppers in Germany are supporting her practice.

When I resolved to “take refuge in the sangha”, I intended to do it no matter where I was or who I was with. If it’s possible to be supported by the grasshoppers in Germany, then there ought to be some way to be supported by the strangers on the street, and the birds in my backyard, and the friends I haven’t seen in many months. I was after a way of being that’s antithetical to isolation, yet compatible with solitude.

That way of being, it turns out, is community. Or community results from it, or something. After a year of learning to take refuge in the sangha, my conception of community is not about what happens when people get together. It’s about what remains when they’re apart.

I've lately been thinking that the rationality I practice, develop, and sometimes teach, is better described as a "discipline" than an "art". Discipline like "an activity, exercise, or regimen that develops or improves a skill", or "to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control".

The closest definition of "art" that looks very relevant to me is "any field using the skills or techniques of [the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance]".

"The art of rationality" sounds a little too much to me like "we follow our whims and focus on the shiny things", whereas "the discipline of rationality" has a lot more of "and then I did the hard and boring thing for the 10,000th time in a row because there's simply no better way to hone a reflex or maintain form over time".

I don't intend to be mean to art here; I consider myself somewhat of an artist, in visual, written, and perhaps kinesthetic media. And it definitely takes a lot of discipline, as well as a bit of science, to make good art reliably. But what is it that makes a practice more of an art, rather than more of a something-else? I think it has something to do with a focus on expression. You experience a recognition of beauty or quality or significance, and then you create an expression of whatever you felt in response to the experience.  Art is about expressing beauty. ("Express" in the sense of "to show, manifest, or reveal".) 

Is rationality about expressing beauty?


Rationality is about figuring out how to not do quite so much dumb shit all the time, in the course of trying not to do quite so much dumb shit all the time.

Which I readily admit is beautiful. But I think that's incidental?

Rationality tends to benefit from some tools that are relevant to artists, such as skillful perception, and perhaps others but honestly that's the only one I have in mind right now. But it draws a lot more heavily on the tools of science, statistics, and psychology than on the tools of art.

"The art of rationality" sounds cool, but just like "martial arts", it's... sort of misleading, and I worry it contributes to a concept of rationality that does not include the forbearance, dedication, persistence, patience, discipline that is actually required.

Edit: Someone on the Facebook version of this brought up the "art of war", and I replied, "i guess i've just never gotten this use of 'art'. i think i hear it as 'people do it and also we don't really understand it and also rather than wishing we understood it we glorify the mystery'.

Edit edit: More from Facebook:

i agree with a lot of these... "criticisms" seems a bit too strong for what they actually are. i agree with stuff in a lot of these comments, especially the Duncan things. i could tell even as i was writing the OP that something was coming out sideways. i'd like to find the Something that came out sideways and do something a bit more productive with it, though. like, i wrote the stuff in the OP because i have a frustration and a longing, and it has a lot more to do with the goodness of "discipline" than with the badness of "art".

i think rationality enthusiasts, perhaps in part because of founder effects and/or programmer culture?, tend to have a sort of laziness fetish or something that has huge benefits and also seems to me to have lead to a ton of throwing-out-the-baby-with-the-bath-water.

[One commenter] sais, "for me the word "discipline" has a connotation of "willpower", which doesn't quite work for me with regards to rationality. It reminds me of something I think you (?) wrote on Facebook some time ago. Badly paraphrased from my lousy memory, it was something like: "Lots of rationality advice can be boiled down to: 'See that dumb thing your brain does? Don't do that.'""

(i did indeed say something like that.)

i don't know what or how real [commenter] thinks, but there's a kind of person i'm quite certain exists who could well have uttered such a paragraph, who isn't very aware that they're breaking their conceptualization of deliberate action into a false dichotomy like "manifest outcomes through blunt force of will" and "do the things that are cheap and easy for you but otherwise just let things happen". i conjecture that the history of rationality over the past ten years involves a lot of taking this dichotomy for granted and only seriously considering practices that are cheap and easy, because, obviously, relying on blunt force of will all the time is very stupid.

according to me, there's this entire realm of human virtue/skill/enculturation/training that involves... i don't know, the closest i've ever come to trying to say it is my essay on patient observation at the end of the naturalism series, and the painting that's in it. some things that remind me of it include courage, the bit in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where he talks about how to paint, the strengths that my stereotype of people in the military and also ancient Greek heroes have but my dancing buddies and contemporary liberal culture in general seems to lack or sometimes even disparage, an expectation that life is hard and part of being good human is not just insisting on the world being different but also developing what's needed to cope gracefully with reality as it currently exists. i dunno that's maybe just one corner of the thing.

anyway i think part of what i'm doing with myself in general is advocating for the deliberate development of some relatively unpleasant human capacities such as patience and not shutting down when there is danger and not giving up immediately when things seem dauntingly complicated. and the OP came from some not-yet-satisfactorilly-expressed motivation for that project.

and "discipline" is often my shorthand for a big chunk of that cluster of stuff.

"Sometimes science is more art than science Morty."

fyi i just added some stuff to the OP that you'll prbly wanna see

I had a baby on June 20th. I wrote a whole bunch of stuff about what it was like for me to give birth at home without pain medication. I've just published it all to my website, along with photos and videos. 

CN: If you click on "words", you won't see anybody naked. If you click on "photos" or "videos", you will see me very extra naked. 

The "words" section includes a birth story, followed by a Q&A section with things like "What do contractions feel like?", "How did you handle the pain?", and "How did you think about labor, going into it?". There's also a bit at the very bottom of the page where you can submit more questions, though of course you're also welcome to ask me stuff here.

"What did pregnancy do to your cognition?"

(Interested in responses to this from other people who have been pregnant, but here's my own answer.)

I think the main thing pregnancy seemed to do to my mind was reduce my associative speed. This had all kinds of effects on the rest of my cognition and experience, because it's a capacity I rely on almost constantly, but I think this was the central mechanism.

I'm not sure I have my concepts carved up right here, but by "associative speed" I mean "the thing that lets your thoughts go far and fast during a babble challenge". During pregnancy I'd try to do a task like "What does the smell of this chocolate make me think of?" and nothing would come to me for ages and ages (by which I mean a full one to three seconds), and then tiny bits of things would trickle in, but with no vibrancy or motion, no suggestion of more thoughts coming on their tails.

At the height of my mnemonics training, when I was super buff in raw creativity muscles, I'd try something like that and it was an almost overwhelming flood of life-like imaginings that felt effortless, almost like closing your eyes on mushrooms. My brain on pregnancy was the opposite of that, and it felt like death.

I was terrified that my associative speed would stay that low forever. Six weeks postpartum, it's not quite back to normal yet, but I think it's close.

(I think I remember this) towards the end of it, I could read for a long time, my interest never sagging or spiking noticeably. I think. I'm not sure if I was capable of retaining much of what I had read.

Thread on The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

Notes on Part One: Men Without Chests:

  • What is the relationship between believing that some things merit liking while others merit hatred, and the power to act?
  • Is there a way to preserve the benefits of a map/territory distinction mentality while gaining the benefits of map/territory conflation when it comes to taste/value/quality?
  • What exactly *are* the benefits of map/territory conflation?
  • Are terrible contortions necessary to believe in objective value wholeheartedly?
  • What are we protecting when we dismiss objective value? What does it seem to threaten?
  • "It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are." What exactly is the word "to" doing in that sentence?
  • Everybody knows that value is objective, and also that it isn't. What are we confused about, and why?
  • What role does religion play in a community's relationship to value?
  • If everyone who ever lived thought a certain combination of musical notes was ugly, but in fact everyone were wrong, how could you know?
  • The Lesswrong comment guidelines say, "Aim to explain, not persuade." Is this a method by which we cut out our own chests?

The Lesswrong comment guidelines say, "Aim to explain, not persuade." Is this a method by which we cut out our own chests?

I‘m curious how this question parses for Vaniver

I've recently written up an overview of my naturalism project, including where it's been and where it's headed. I've tried this a few times, but this is the first time I'm actually pretty happy with the result. So I thought I'd share it.


In the upcoming year, I intend to execute Part Three of my naturalism publication project.

(Briefly: What is naturalism? 

Naturalism is an investigative method that focuses attention on the points in daily life where subjective experience intersects with crucial information. It brings reflective awareness to experiences that were always available, but that our preconceptions inclined us to discard; it thereby grants us the opportunity to fold those observations into our stories about the world. It is a gradual process of original seeing, clarification, and deconfusion. At its best, naturalism results in a greater ability to interact agentically with the world as it is, rather than fumbling haphazardly through a facade of misapprehensions.) 

Part Zero of the project was developing the basic methodology of naturalism, on my own and in collaboration with others. If you start counting at my first essays on “tortoise skills” and "noticing", it took about six years.

In Part One, I tried to communicate the worldview of naturalism. In a LessWrong sequence called "Intro to Naturalism", I picked out the concepts that seem foundational to my approach, named them, and elaborated on each. The summary sentence is, "Knowing the territory takes patient and direct observation." Creating the sequence wasn't just a matter of writing; in search of an accurate and concise description, I continued running and revising the curriculum, worked things out with other developers, and ran an experimental month-long course online. Part One took one year.

In Part Two, I tried to communicate the methodology of naturalism, in the relatively linear and self-contained form of a curriculum. (The actual practice is messier than that.) After a lot of testing and revising, I published a second sequence called "The Nuts and Bolts of Naturalism".

Part Three will demonstrate the method. I will choose a topic to be the subject of a naturalist study (probably something from the Sequences or the CFAR handbook, to start), learn what I can about it over the course of one week to three months while taking many notes, and compose an account of the process and my findings. I expect that each piece will be similar to my post “Investigating Fabrication”, but better. 

Then, I will choose a new subject, and do it again. I'll continue until I've covered a range of topics and shown several ways of wrestling with relevant challenges, then I'll tie everything into another LessWrong sequence on naturalism. In addition to generating some real-life, detailed, concrete examples of every part of the naturalist methodology, I hope that this part of the project will provide a few valuable companion pieces to existing writings on applied rationality. 

(I also have a bit of a hope that I'll get others to join me for some of these studies and to publish their own accounts.)

Although I hope that the direct products of Parts One through Three are worthwhile in themselves, I do not consider any of them to be complete. I think that the philosophy, methodology, and demonstration are all essential to mastering naturalism, so my ultimate goal with this project is Part Four: A comprehensive manual of naturalism that weaves together the previous parts. I may attempt to publish Part Four in print, and not just as a LessWrong sequence.

I'm interested in a couple of things from people who have read the Sequences (or AI to Zombies) and have thought a lot about applied rationality.

1) I would like to hear what you think it might be especially valuable to study in this way.  Which Sequence posts (or other existing resources) seem really important, but also lack crucial info about what exactly the concrete skill is or how to gain it? Also, what parts of rationality seem important to you but just do not seem to have been explored much from an application perspective? What do you think are some open problems in applied rationality?

2) Do you want to form an adventuring party? In what area/around what question or topic?

[Crossposted from Facebook.]

Recommendation request:

As part of developing "perceptual dexterity" stuff, I think I want to do a post where I review a few books related to creativity. I've just finished reading A Whack On the Side of the Head, which felt like quite a... I'm not sure what to call it, "corporate"? I think? It felt like a corporate take on creativity. When I started it, I thought I'd do a review of just that book, but after finishing it, I think a comparative study would be a lot more valuable.

I'm now looking for more books to include in the post. I'd like each one to be either 1) unusually excellent, 2) super weird and different from all the others, or 3) not overtly about creativity at all, but likely to produce something interesting and valuable if I try to review it "as a creativity book" anyway.

Another book that's on my list is called "What It Is", and it falls in the "super weird" category, while also being a... graphic novel?????? I guess????

I'd love for there to be a wide range of literary genres represented: a novel, a children's picture book, a biography, a poetry anthology, maybe a pop sci thing, and at least one more training-manual-ish thing that's not so "corporate".

If you think of something else you'd like to see reviewed in a post like this, please pitch me on that as well.